Lucier Variations

In this work I play with a technique of sound repetition that composer Alvin Lucier introduced in his “I am sitting in a room.” Additionally,  I mix ambience that I carry along in the electronics with a text that is relevant to the place of performance.

In this way the place where I am performing is situated alongside an aspect of the place that I call home; the two places together are making a third place where both exist simultaneously.

I start with a poem or short text by someone connected to the place where I am performing. For example, when I performed it in Baltimore I recited a Lucille Clifton poem into the tape recorder and when I performed it in Bushwick I recited a Jacqueline Woodson poem. In the video above, since it was for the online concert series Invisible Rail, I started with a part of an essay by early VR pioneer Nicole Stenger.

The text is recorded to magnetic tape and from there into a laptop where a digital simulation of the ambience of my studio is running. The text, with ambience applied, is sent back out to the tape. The process then repeats, creating a sort of tape loop without the tape loop. Over time, this text degrades and becomes a kind of hum or musical feedback depending on a variety of factors that are dependent on the specific performance space. I refer to this as the “place loop.”

The place loop is fed into my modular synthesizer where I capture a sample of the recording fairly early, before the audio is completely transformed. I can then use the “legible text” within the piece, allowing the text to drive various sounds, rhythms, and textures in the modular synthesizer to create variations on the initial tape process.

These two elements, the place loop and a fragment of legible text, are the basis for improvisations on the modular synthesizer. The hum and feedback of the place loop progresses and deteriorates alongside the splicing and reorganizing of the legible text via the modular system. This create two different, contrapuntal means of altering the place of performance.

Some technical notes:
In environments where time, space, and budget allows the piece is performed on two of my Nagra 4.2 1/4″ reel to reel decks for the tape loop and use the laptop only to bring the ambience of my studio to the work. In spatially-challenged or low-time/budget environments I create the work as described above, using a Nagra SN 1/8″ Full Width tape deck as depicted in the video above.

alvin lucier laptop modular tape